Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
In 2045, the world is a wasteland and much of humanity has taken to playing and working within a virtual reality game called OASIS. You can become anyone, do anything and have near limitless access to all reaches of pop culture. When the Game’s Creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away, he leaves behind a challenge to find keys and an “Easter Egg” that will give the winner full control over OASIS. Teenage player Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) thinks he can win the challenge, but he will need to outrun the evil conglomerate IOI and its CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) if he wants to be successful.
There is a lot more happening of course, but once Ready Player One sets the rules and puts the pieces in motion, it starts moving rapidly and relentlessly – and does not stop until the credits roll nearly 140-minutes later. Legendary Director Steven Spielberg has created one of the most visually-stunning achievements of the decade, crafting the kind of monumental, must-see Blockbuster that is much too rare in this age of serialized franchise filmmaking. It brings together ideas, characters and references you never thought possible, all housed into one mostly cohesive storyline that truly marries the language of cinema and video games together. The joy of seeing some of these things interacting on-screen will likely go down as some of the most memorable cinematic moments of the year.
The way Spielberg and his Production Team use Zak Penn and Author Ernest Cline’s Screenplay as the blueprint to create a fully realized world is simply astounding. They use Cline’s book as a jumping off point, reinterpreting and reinventing in ways that should still please fans of the original source material. The majority of the film, much like James Cameron’s ground breaking Avatar before it, takes place in a digitally created world with digitally created characters. And no matter the circumstance, everything looks real and highly detailed. The visual palette and vast amount of colours on display here are staggering, and look absolutely incredible in 2D. I can only imagine how much more pronounced the details would be in 3D or even through a VR headset.
But what Ready Player One truly thrives on is nostalgia. The Film opens on a race scene where the lead character drives a DeLorean from Back to the Future, and has a major moment later that recreates scenes and elements from a very popular horror film. And it only gets bigger and better from there. I could list off the plethora of characters and references Spielberg and company manage to squeeze into every frame, but the idea of re-watching and seeing something new each time sounds substantially more enjoyable. It frequently brought me back to those Saturday afternoons I spent as a child discovering new films and endlessly watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on repeat. Hopefully an entirely new generation will feel the same way about this Film.
Where Ready Player One falters is in its character development. Despite being portrayed well, none of the supporting characters are fully realized or given any form of true dimensionality (save for an obvious twist involving Emmy-winner Lena Waithe’s character Aech). They merely assist or hinder Watts’ quest to win the contest. Sheridan and Olivia Cooke are both afforded moments of proper motivation, but their characters’ traits never seem to elaborate beyond the superficial. Mendelsohn has a blast vamping and playing a stereotypical 80s film villain, but is trapped within those confines the entire time. We can blame the Film’s breakneck pacing for not addressing these problems, but Penn and Cline’s Script does not seem to do any favours for these characters. It actively shies away from any deeper moments of introspection and seems genuinely afraid to give into the Film’s darker and more bitingly-satirical elements. The hints and moments that are left behind just feel like missed opportunities – especially those haunting scenes of regret and anguish brilliantly depicted by Rylance.
And while I can appreciate Ready Player One’s attempts at adding newer characters and properties to its massive stable of Pop Culture references, some of them feel genuinely odd considering the otherwise complete devotion and reverence to works from the 1980s. If an entire pivotal plot point revolves around playing an Atari 2600, then how does it make sense to have avatars of Mortal Kombat, Halo and Overwatch characters fighting with each other alongside it?
Issues aside, I cried tears of joy while watching Ready Player One. What it lacks in depth and introspection, it more than makes up for with thrills and genuinely spectacular visuals. I loved watching this Movie and had a huge smile on my face almost the entire time. The waves of nostalgia it elicited are simply incredible and need to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. Spielberg invented the modern Blockbuster when he made Jaws in 1975, so it only feels right that he would reinvent and create brand new possibilities for the format with this Film 43 years later.
Warner Bros. Pictures Canada release READY PLAYER ONE on Thursday, March 29, 2018.
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